Billiard balls in a sock, gang rape in a greenhouse, teenage suicide . . . it’s all here in Alan Clarke’s brutal look at life in a British borstal.
Carlin (Ray “I’m the daddy now!” Winstone) is the focus of this remake of a 1977 made-for-TV Play For Today drama banned by the BBC.
The film portrays a vicious system and doesn’t pull any punches. Into this inhuman system come three new inmates, Angel (Alrick Riley), Davis (Julian Firth) and Carlin (Winstone), who has been transferred from another borstal for retaliation against violent officers.
Brutalised by a system that likes to stir up hostility between groups, Carlin fights back to regain his dignity, rising to the top of the prisoner hierarchy to become the Daddy, the hardened leader of the gang.
He realises that the only way is by beating the system at its own game and eventually erupts as leader of a bloody climatic riot.
Shocking, violent and perhaps even more damning of the justice system than any prison story, Scum is arguably Clarke’s finest work.
The Borstal is run by the violence and cruelty of both inmates and officers, and it is the law of the jungle that brutalises all within its walls.
The harshness is intensified by the complete lack of music, and the message is clear; you are in a vicious circle – you can never get out – abandon all hope.